Tuesday, November 29, 2011

And Just in Case...


And just in case you want to compare the Roy Thomas/John Buscema version of the same scene, (see previous post) here ya go.

More Cloonan Conan

Comics Alliance has put up a few pages of the first issue of Brian Wood's and Becky Cloonan's adaptation of Queen of the Black Coast. I'm not going to swipe the "exclusive" pics, so I'll provide a link at the bottom of the page. Overall I like the art quite a bit, though I'm reserving judgement until I see more shots of Conan's face.
I do really like the last page of the preview where Conan says,

"And I promise you, if you don't put distance between us and those guardsmen on shore, I will drench this ship in your blood and that of your crew."

And then the next panel cuts to the crew's faces and they're like, "Wait..what did he just say?" . Very nice bit of visual "business."

http://www.comicsalliance.com/2011/11/29/conan-the-barbarian-1-brian-wood-becky-cloonan-preview/

Savage Memories #6


My last Savage Memories post pretty much closed out the really golden days of discovering Savage Sword of Conan. After that I always seemed to be able to find the magazine and I bought it regularly for the next few years, but the mania had passed. I don't know that you can be that crazy about something once you pass adolescence. I remember Ray Bradbury talking about his love for the Buck Rogers comic strip and how he lived in anticipation of each day's strip. That was me and the Conan comics.
However, there were some later issues that stand out in my mind. Issue #20 featured an adaptation of the Robert E. Howard story The Slithering Shadow. The artwork on this issue was fantastic. John Buscema's pencils were at their Conan peak and Alfredo Alcala's inks brought dimension and texture to Buscema's dynamic figure work. Plus, I love the Earl Norem cover, showing a Lovecraftian horror in all it's gibbering, slavering, glory. I need to devote an entire post to Norem's work on the covers of SSoC.
Issue #30 had an amazing art job by Frank Brunner on a Roy Thomas adaptation of REH's The Scarlet Citadel. Just gorgeous art and very creepy in some places.
Issue #24 was something of an oddity in that it adapted a Robert E. Howard story that Roy Thomas had already adapted in the color pages of Conan the Barbarian issue #4 with artist Barry Smith. Thomas wanted to give the story a longer and more in depth adaptation and he wanted to see how John Buscema would handle the story. Makes for some interesting comparisons with the earlier adaptation.
Issues #33 and #34 featured great art by two comics legends, even if they were adapting two less than stellar de Camp/Carter stories. Gene Colan did his usual fine work on issue #33 and Carmine Infantino penciled issue #34. Alcala inked Infantino and it's very interesting to see what he did with Infantino's design oriented art.
If I seem a bit focused on the artwork, remember that this was in the days when I was learning to draw and when I wanted to be a comic book artist. I spent a lot of time studying the art, so these things are imbedded in my brain. However I was also absorbing the stories. As I've mentioned countless times in other posts, the comic books were my introduction to Conan and to Robert E. Howard, and Roy Thomas's well done adaptations made me want to read the prose stories. Thus I'm a bit dismissive of those "REH Purists" who dismiss the comic books. Many many REH fans discovered Howard through the comics.
Anyway, those are the issues that stand out in my mind from 1976 to 1980. So what happened in 1980? Tell you next time.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Weekend Report


My five day weekend didn't get off to quite the start I had hoped for. Wednesday night, while leaving the Mexican restaurant where I'd just had dinner with friends, I wasn't paying attention and I stepped into a depression in the asphalt and rolled my ankle, leaving me with a bad sprain. By the time I got home, the ankle had swollen up to the size of a tennis ball, so I put some ice on it and took some pain killer. The next day I couldn't really walk on it, but I taped it up and hobbled up to the assisted living home to see my grandmother.
After that I went home and basically spent the next two days with my foot elevated. Wasn't that big a deal, as I had planned to spend a lot of the long weekend watching movies and reading, I just hadn't planned on it being enforced. I can walk normally now, but there's still some pain, and given what I know of sprains, that will probably be the case for a while.
So Thanksgiving was short. I didn't go to my brother's house for the annual dinner, so I didn't have any turkey. I'm okay with that. Thanksgiving isn't a big deal for me these days.
So overall, the weekend was fine, other than the ankle thing. I re-read David Gemmell's book Hero in the Shadows, which finishes up his Waylander series. I hadn't read that one in about a decade so I'd forgotten a lot of it. I was talking to my pal Brian, who I introduced to Gemmell's fiction, and he asked if anyone had stepped up to fill the gap left by Gemmell's death, and I told him sadly no. There's still no one writing the sort of action filled, hard edged fantasy that Gemmell did so well. It wasn't quite sword & sorcery, but it was close.
I finished that up and started on Stephen King's 11/22/63, which I commented on in the post below. Still working on that one. At 849 pages it's another King doorstop. As I mentioned in the previous post, the book is about time travel. Basically a guy goes back to try and stop the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Not exactly a new idea. But King gives it his own twist. The method of time travel only allows the traveler to go to one specific day, which is in 1958. So if the guy wants to stop the assassination, he has to spend five years of his life in the past. If anything goes wrong he could presumably try again, (Every trip is a reset.) but he'd have to give up another five years. Interesting concept. King does a great job of recreating the past as he remembers it, giving readers a glimpse of a world long gone. Oh and part of it takes place in King's fictional Maine town of Derry. And if you've been to Derry before, you know that means trouble. More on that later.
I watched a couple more episodes of the second season of The Walking Dead. You can tell the budget for the show has been cut by the shortage of zombies in what's theoretically a show about zombies. The writing is still pretty strong and character focused, but nothing much seems to be happening. The show's pace has slowed. Still enjoying it, but I haven't found the second season as strong as the first.
Did a re-watch on the David Tennant Doctor Who episode, The Christmas Invasion. This was Tennant's first actual episode as the Doctor and it's interesting seeing him getting into the role. This is also just a fun holiday episode with plenty of British Christmas trappings. I used to watch all the Doctor Who Christmas episodes on Christmas day, but there are so many now, that I'll be spreading them out a bit. I haven't watched last year's Christmas show since it originally aired so that will be the one I save for Christmas day, I think.
Anyway, I watched some other stuff and read some non-fiction and some comic books and I played Lord of the Rings Online a good bit. (Kharrn is level 72 of 75 now.) I also did a surprising amount of drawing. Guess I was just in the mood to sketch. Not much writing. Still recharging from finishing the novel and sorting ideas for next project. So there ya go.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

That Darned Stephen King


So I was just going to read the first chapter or so of Stephen King's new book, 11/22/63, and when I came up for air I was on page 124. I can't think of any other writer who can hold my attention like that these days. It probably helps that the book is about time travel, one of my favorite ideas for fiction, but really, it's just that King is so readable. He's just such a good storyteller. Truthfully I might have stopped a little earlier, but some characters from one of King's earlier novels showed up and I had to see what that was about and...darn him.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cat-iversary

Today marks the third year that I have had two cats living with me. On November 22nd, 2008, my friend Trish dropped off her two cats, Bruce and Amelia, to stay with me while her Air Force Reserve unit was deployed to Iraq. I was originally supposed to keep the cats for six to eight months, but various upheavals in Trish's life kept extending their stay until finally she and I decided the cats should just stay with me permanently. (Though I have promised Trish joint custody should she ever return to Georgia.)
Bruce has now lived with me longer than he lived with Trish, and Amelia is catching up, so I do consider them my cats. (Though as Rooster Cogburn observed, no one owns a cat. We're roommates.) They are a constant source of amusement, annoyance, and companionship.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Coming Up


My to-be-read pile is toppling over as usual. Some of the books at the top of the pile.

11/23/63 By Stephen King

The Eagle's Prophecy by Simon Scarrow

Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins

The Silent Stars Go By (Doctor Who) by Dan Abnett

The Vault by Ruth Rendell

Looking good for Holiday season reading!

Monday is Better When It's Thursday

My workplace is going to be closed Thursday and Friday this week to observe the Thanksgiving Holiday. Since I have several vacation days left here at the end of the year, I'm going to take Wednesday off as well. Say it with me. Five Day Weekend. So since my weekend starts the day after tomorrow, today is kind of like Thursday. And let me tell you, as a guy who hates Mondays, it's much easier to come in on a Monday when you know you only have two days to put in.
So what will I do with that many days off? Well Thursday I have family stuff, and Friday I'm having lunch with my buddy Brian, and beyond that, no plans so far. I finished the rewrites on Blind Shadows this weekend so I may start a new writing project. Otherwise, I suspect I'll read and draw and play Lord of the Rings Online and write blog posts about some of that.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Conan: Road of Kings Issue #10


You know what I'm going to say. another great issue of Conan: Road of Kings. I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but honestly, Roy Thomas has done such a bang-up job as writer on this title that I have to keep saying good things. RoK #10 once again jams as much story into one issue as most other comics use in a six issue arc. Conan, still trapped in the city of Tarantia with a group of rebels, agrees to help them in an attempted Coup d'├ętat against the current king. Before it's all over, the big Cimmerian will have to hack his way through dozens of soldiers and one seriously pissed-off giant lizard. Artist Dan Panosian draws a suitably hulking, wild-eyed Conan, reminding me favorably of Big John Buscema. Go Dan!
As usual though, with Roy Thomas, it isn't all blood and thunder. Thomas again shows his skill at characterization and the ending is a little downbeat and Conan has to say goodbye to a comrade of whom he is perhaps more fond than he would care to admit. Thomas's Conan is human.
Anyway, next issue sees the return of artist Mike Hawthorne for the final two issues of this mini series. I've enjoyed Panosian's work a lot, and I'd certainly welcome his art on his own twelve issue Conan mini-series. In fact I'd like to see him on Kull or Solomon Kane at some point. I bet he'd do a great Kane. I'm looking forward to having Mike back for the finale though.

Still a Barbarian


Okay, okay. A few of you were worried that my Lotro avatar Kharrn was loosing his Conan-esque look. See, he's still all barbarian looking under that crusader armor. Now calm down, as my buddy Nav would say.

Byzantine Dreams


My study of the Byzantine Empire, set in motion about five years ago by my study of the Vikings, flared up again this weekend as I read Harold Lamb's biography of the Emperor Justinian and his Empress, Theodora and also Lamb's history of early Constantinople. Can't recommend both of these books enough. Lamb brings the same energy to his biographies and histories as he does to his historical fiction making for fast paced reading and easy comprehension of what other writers might have presented as dry facts and dates. In fact, one Lamb fan of my acquaintance went so far as to say he preferred Lamb's non fiction to his fiction. I won't go that far, but I can see what he meant.
Anyway, reading these books inspired me to re-watch the four part documentary Byzantium: The Lost Empire, which I own on DVD. Watching it post-Lamb was very interesting, especially seeing as how most of Lamb's information was still in line with current thinking on the Byzantine Empire. (Lamb's books were written in the 1950s.)
And that set me to re-reading sections of some of my history books. See how these things get started? So this morning I was thinking over breakfast that I would offer a guide to anyone who might like to begin studying the Byzantine empire. Just something to give you a working knowledge of the history of the second part of the Roman Empire and the influence that Byzantium exerted over history.

History Books:

A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich.

This is the cut-down version of Norwich's three-volume history of Byzantium. The best and most concise history I've found, covering the major events and the careers of the important rulers and citizens. Coming in at just over 400 pages, it includes a useful glossary, maps, and lists of Emperors and Sultans. If you read only one history of Byzantium, go with this one.

Sailing From Byzantium by Colin Wells

An excellent book for putting the Byzantine empire into historical context. in fact it's sub-titled, How a Lost Empire Shaped the World. Due for a re-read soon.

Fourteen Byzantine Rulers by Michael Psellus

My most well thumbed history book. Psellus served under two Byzantine rulers and was alive during the rules of others. This first hand account, though definitely biased, as are all first hand accounts, is still utterly fascinating.

Videos:

Byzantium: The Lost Empire

I'm going to recommend that the person newly interested in the Byzantines watch this video before he or she reads anything. It will give them a good grounding in the subject and make the reading easier to follow. Then watch it again after you've read a bunch of stuff to help cement your knowledge. This approach helped me a lot. Available on DVD, but I think someone uploaded it to Youtube recently.

Nova: The Vikings

The section about the Varangian Guard has some useful and fascinating information about the later part of the Empire when Norsemen served as bodyguards and mercenaries to the rulers of Byzantium.

There you go. Pretty painless, eh? If that whets your appetite, I'll recommend the two Harold Lamb books mentioned above and Daily Life in The Byzantine Empire by Marcus Rautman, plus I'll throw in some fiction. Try Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn, which is about Viking King Harald the Ruthless and his time in Constantinople, and The Sheen on the Silk, a suspense/mystery by Anne Perry set in medieval Constantinople.

See you in Byzantium.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Fortunes of Kharrn


It occurred to me that I haven't given a report on the adventures of Kharrn the Barbarian in Middle Earth for a bit. Truthfully I haven't had time to play much lately. Kharrn looks more like Cormac Fitzgeoffrey than Conan these days in his Crusader duds. Don't worry though. I can still switch him back to his barbarian tunic with the flip of a switch. Things are getting interesting in the new expansion. I've run across Saruman a couple of times and there are other links to the books. Nothing super new in terms of gameplay, but overall Isengard has a lot of cool stuff. Mostly I'm just enjoying all the medieval looking armor.

Hi Ho Lancelot!


This is the new horse emote of Lord of the Rings on line. You can make your horse rear up just like the Lone Ranger and Silver. I always wanted to be able to do that in the game. This is my charger, Lancelot, by the way. Now if I only had a lance...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Savage Memories #5


I mentioned in my last Savage Memories post that I'd have to backtrack to Savage Sword of Conan issue #11 because I wanted to take the time to read the actual Robert E. Howard story on which the Conan tale in that issue was based. This was an El Borak yarn called The Country of the Knife. El Borak, aka Francis X. Gordon was a former gunfighter from Texas and an adventurer in Asia, primarily in Afghanistan, whose adventures took place in (for Howard) contemporary times. Not that this kept the stories from having plenty of sword swinging action. 1920s-30s Afghanistan was still a wild and wooly place, at least in the pages of Adventure Magazine, where writers like Harold Lamb and Talbot Mundy spun tales of adventure in far off places that would influence the young Robert E. Howard in the creation of his own Lawrence of Arabia style adventurer.
However, this meant that Conan scripter Roy Thomas had to do a bit of rewriting to turn Country of the Knife into a Hyborian Age tale. I've explained before that Thomas had two methods of adapting Robert E. Howard stories to the Conan comic. If he did a straight adaptation, changing very little, the credits box at the front of the comic book story would say 'adapted from the story by Robert E. Howard.' If Thomas did a good bit of rewriting, then the box would say 'freely adapted.'
I discovered the Marvel Conan the Barbarian color comic with issue #36, which featured a pure Roy Thomas story, not an adaptation, but within the next half a dozen issues or so, and one previous issue I found on a spinner rack, Thomas would adapt three REH non-Conan stories from widely varied sources into issues of the Conan comic. He adapted The Fire of Ashurbanipal, The House of Arabu, and oddly enough, The Purple Heart of Erlik . (Why do I say oddly about Erlik? Tell you later.)
So as you can see, a 'freely' adapted Robert E. Howard story was nothing new to me by the time I got around to Savage Sword issue #11's lead tale, The Abode of the Damned. And here's the thing. At age 13 or so, I still hadn't read much in the way of real Robert E. Howard, and truthfully I was probably happier with Roy's Conan-izations than I would have been with stories of El Borak, Wild Bill Clanton, and the rest. Forgive my callow youth, but all I wanted in those days was more Conan. With the exception of Solomon Kane, who I also discovered through Savage Sword, I didn't know or care much about Howard's other characters. All of that would come later. Anyway, the biggest change Thomas made in the story was changing one of the lead characters from male to female. In The Country of the knife, transplanted Englishman Stuart Brent is hanging out in his San Francisco apartment when he hears a scuffle in the hall. He opens the door to find one man viciously stabbing another. Brent hits the knife man with a whiskey bottle and the fellow flees. Brent is then stunned to learn that the victim is an old friend, one Dick Stockton, an agent with the British Secret service.
The dying Stockton tells Brent that Brent must get a message to a man called El Borak in Afghanistan. Brent, being a stand up guy, agrees, and travels to the far off land to deliver said message. Unfortunately Brent is taken prisoner by slave raiders who are traveling to a mysterious refuge for criminals called Rub El Harami. Along the way, a stranger joins the slavers and manages to aid Brent. Obviously this is El Borak in disguise, but that won't come out for some time.
In the Conan story, Brent is replaced by a woman named Mellani. Mel is a former prostitute who now owns her own small tavern. Late one night, after closing time, Mellani is pouring herself a drink when she hears a scuffle outside her door. She opens the door to find one man viciously stabbing another. Mel hits the knifeman with a wine jug and the fellow flees. Mel is then stunned to learn that that the victim is her ne'er-do-well brother.
The dying brother gives Mel a bit of information that she doesn't understand, and also tells her that his enemies are connected to the mysterious refuge for criminals Rub El Harami. Mel sets out for revenge against those who murdered her brother. Unfortunately Mellani is taken prisoner by slave raiders who are traveling to Rub El Harami. Along the way, a stranger joins the slavers and manages to aid Mellani. Obviously this is Conan in disguise, but that won't come out for some time. Except for the exchange of motives, personal revenge versus counter espionage, the narratives are pretty much the same for the first half of both stories, and of course, Mel is a chick. So why the sex change? Only Roy Thomas would know for sure, but I would speculate that the primary reason was that the El Borak story was lacking a hot babe and part of the mix for any Marvel Conan story was a hot chick, presumably to lure adolescent male readers in. (Worked for me.) In fact, many Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan covers featured scantily clad women even if there wasn't one in the story (or at least in the cover scene). This non-existent babe came to be referred to as Miraj by some of the comic creators.
As I read through Country of the Knife and Abode of the Damned, switching back and forth, I noted that the first half of Thomas's adaptation sticks pretty close to the REH tale, even using most of Howard's dialogue and many descriptions and such in the captions. (Thomas was really good about this, always striving for the REH flavor, even in his non-adaptations.) Thomas adds the other Marvel Conan requisite, a supernatural menace, in the form of three strange men with sorcerous powers who also seek the city of thieves, but otherwise events progress in similar fashion in both stories up until the travelers enter the city. After this, while some scenes and incidents occur in both stories, Thomas goes in more his own direction. The Country of the Knife is a very long story and Thomas understandably dropped a few of the subplots to make things work in the comics format. He was also building to his own climax, which is very different from the end of the El Borak yarn. So this one was definitely 'freely' adapted. Still, a lot of fun.
Oh, one more thing, as Colombo would say, L. Sprague de Camp, another man who Conan-nized several non-Conan REH stories, once said that it was easy to change the characters in these tales to Conan, because all Howard's heroes were basically the same character. I'd like to disagree with that. Francis X. Gordon is very much not Conan, and that's easy to see when you read The Country of the Knife. Gordon's character is much less serious in many ways, and seems to relish his disguises, being very much a 'method' actor when pretending to be a native. Sure, once the balloon goes up, Gordon can dole out the harshness with the best of them, but he's not the killing machine that Conan is. Sorry Sprague.
Wow, this has turned into a long post and I haven't even mentioned the fantastic art job on Abode of the Damned by John Buscema and Yong Montano. I'm including the splash page from the story, just so you can see how awesome the art was.

The Other Kirby Conan


Everyone is familiar with the Jack Kirby cover for Giant Size Conan #5, and the two Kirby pencil drawings of Conan that are all over the net, but there's one more Kirby Conan illustration that tends to fall though the cracks, and that's the cover of Marvel Comics' 1977 Calendar. The reason, I think, that this one slips by is that the piece is so heavily inked and redrawn by John Romita, but take a close look and you can see the Kirby poses and musculature on most of the figures. Romita may have redrawn Spiderman entirely, as this wasn't a character Jack seemed to have the feel for.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

That Which Remains

"He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century."

_Doctor John H. Watson, speaking of Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet.


Someone at work today made a joke about disposing of her husband's body in a woodchipper. I immediately said, "That doesn't work. The case in which that was attempted was ultimately solved because the chipper didn't get some teeth with identifiable dental work, and a large quantity of hair and bone chips were also left at the scene."
As usual, when I say something like that out of the blue, I got several glassy eyed stares. I didn't bother explaining that in a previous part of my life I had read virtually nothing but mystery novels and forensic texts. That's been over a decade ago, but some of that stuff stays with you, including forensic specialist Dr. Henry Lee's painstaking work on that case.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Belated Blogiversary

Once again I let the anniversary of the start of this blog slip past. Nov 1st marked five years of blogging. Hard to believe I've been at it this long. 2011 turned out to be a big year for the blog, with over 200 posts, reversing the downward trend of 2009 and 2010. Don't know if I'll break the 250 mark, as I did in 2008, but still, much blogging.
The focus of the blog has remained books, though obviously I've reviewed a lot of comic books, movies, and other media. I tend to think of the real focus as being stories, because that is my primary interest in all the entertainment fields. I am a card carrying story junkie. I can't get through a day without at least one story, be it a TV show, comic, short story, movie, or novel. I just love stories. I think it's the reason I'm a writer as well. I love to tell a story as much as I love to experience one.
Anyway, I'd like to thank all the folks who read the blog. I've made some new friends by having a blog, and those folks have introduced me to new books and writers and have challenged my opinions and made me think. That makes it worthwhile for me to sit here and pound on the keys.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Acquisitions


I got a lot of stuff yesterday. Part of it was new stuff I'd ordered through the comic store and part was some used books I'd ordered from various people and part of it was new books from Amazon.
At the comic book store I got the latest volume of Titan Book's Simon and Kirby Library, this one featuring their crime comics. There should be a ton of stuff in there I've never read, and there's an introduction by Max Allan Collins, a man who knows his stuff about comics and crime fiction. Also got The Essential Sgt. Fury, which has a bunch of Jack Kirby art as well. Go Jack! And finally, the latest issue of the Doc Savage reprints from Anthony Tollin's Sanctum books. This one contains three of the shorter Doc novels, only one of which I've already read.
Used book-wise, I got two books by Harold Lamb, and we know how much I like Harold Lamb. One is Theodora and the Emperor, a historical biography of, not surprisingly, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and his Empress, Theodora. The other book is Constantinople :Birth of an Empire, which is Lamb's non-fiction book about the same time period covered in the novel (plus additional history.). I figure the two ought to compliment each other. I plan on digging into Lamb's two volume history of the crusades after this.
Then I got two new books in the mail from Amazon. The first is Ruth Rendell's latest Inspector Wexford novel, The Vault. Rendell is my favorite living British mystery writer, and the Wexford books are always well plotted and well written. Apparently much of The Vault takes place in London instead of in Wexford's usual more rural stomping grounds, so I'm looking forward to that.
The second is Kevin Sorbo's memoir about how a stroke almost killed him during the third season of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. I always wondered exactly what happened, so this should prove interesting.
As you can see, my reading is as eclectic as ever.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Writing Report. Done!

Typed what should be the last scene on the novel I've been working on with James A. Moore and sent that to Jim. All that remains are any additions of Jim's and that's that. Currently titled Blind Shadows, it's a crime/horror novel with touches of H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, with a hardboiled attitude I think Mickey Spillane would have approved of, but it isn't a pastiche. So anyway, the first draft is done, more or less. So I'm feeling pretty pleased this morning. Until the rewrites anyway...

Monday, November 07, 2011

Savage Memories #4


I told you last time that I'd tell you how I risked eternal damnation by reading Savage Sword of Conan. This will require that I skip ahead to issue #13. I'm getting ahead of myself because my discussion of issue #11 requires a rereading of one of Robert E. Howard's original stories. No terrible hardship there, but I haven't had a chance to dig it out, so I'll backtrack there soon. Oh and I missed issue #12 at the newsstand. There were still occasional bumps on the road to collecting the magazine. (All of these missed issues would become a moot point a couple of years later when I attended my first comic book convention. Back issues anyone?)
So, issue #13. This lead story in this one was actually a reprint from the color Conan comic, though I didn't notice at the time. Roy Thomas and Gil Kane had done a two-part adaptation of Robert E. Howard's non-Conan tale The Gods of Bal-Sagoth in Conan the Barbarian issues #17&18. Thomas had Conan-nized this story, replacing the original hero Turlogh O'Brien with the Cimmerian (no great stretch) and Turlogh's sidekick Athelstane the Saxon with a Vanirman named Fafnir, who had originally been a one shot joke character meant to represent Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd in an earlier issue of Conan the Barbarian.
Gil Kane's black and white artwork had been toned with gray washes to make it look more like a standard issue of SSoC and since I'd yet to see the original color comics, this was a new story to me. Later, when I would read Robert E. Howard's prose story, I'd see how closely Thomas had stuck to the original. Thomas was a huge fan of REH and an often underrated authority on the writer's work. Read some of the text features in early issues of SSoC and Savage Tales and you can see just how much Thomas knew about Howard. As a result, his adaptations were usually very close (Save for what he called 'freely' adapted, which meant the story had to be heavily rewritten for whatever reasons, usually that the time period wasn't similar enough to the Hyborian age to work easily.) to the originals and his pastiches and Conan-nizations always struck me as far more authentic than the majority of the prose pastiches. Thomas's Conan was remarkably consistent even in the stories not based on the writings of REH.
Anyway, here's where the damnation part comes in. I mentioned in my last Savage Memories post that I had found an alternate source to Blair Food Town for the occasional issue of Savage Sword of Conan. That was Landers Drugstore in downtown Canton, a drugstore with a full fountain/lunch counter and a magazine rack that carried, among other things, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Vampirella, and the Marvel line of black & white magazines.
However, the problem with Landers was that it was too far from my house to walk to, and of course, I still wasn't old enough to drive. I could occasionally get around this though, because at the time my mother worked at a bank in downtown. The bank closed at 4:00 in the afternoon, so what I would do, was get a note from my mom telling the school bus driver that I could get off the bus in downtown. That way I could visit the drugstore or other stores in downtown and then ride home with mom. I did this a lot from ages 12 to 15.
On the occasion that I hopped off the bus and found Savage Sword of Conan issue #13 there was a problem. It rained. As I recall, I had picked up the magazine and left the drugstore and a little while later it began to rain. I suppose I had the mag in a paper bag, but I knew that wouldn't protect it. I had to duck in somewhere for cover and the closest place was The Methodist church. That was the church I attended growing up and in those simpler times it was never locked. So I ran up the stairs to the front of the church as the rain began in earnest.
I stopped in the foyer, not wanting to go into the sanctuary. The interior of the Methodist church had been made of dark wood and it was creepy in the sanctuary with no one else there. So I sat down in the floor to wait for the rain to stop. Gradually my gaze fell upon the paper bag containing my magazine. My SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN MAGAZINE THAT PROBABLY CONTAINED HALF-NAKED WOMEN AND BLOOD AND GORE and I had brought it into the church. The only worse thing I could do would be to read it right there in the foyer. I think I resisted for about 15 seconds. I figured God had forgiven me for worse things. With any luck he wouldn't send me to hell for reading Conan.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Savage Memories #3


As things would turn out, I didn't get copies of The Savage Sword of Conan issues #8 and #9. Once again I can only suppose they sold out at Blair Food Town before I could get there, still being too young to drive, though for all I know, they never got copies. Newsstand distribution was very spotty back in the 1970s.
Issue # 10, however, marked something of a turning point. I don't know if they started ordering more copies at the supermarket because every issue was selling out, or what, but after issue #10 I wouldn't miss more than a couple of issues until I stopped reading the magazine along about issue #60. (Actually I think it was issue #58, which would tie in with other things I'll get to in another post.)
Anyway, the other reasons I managed to get further issues were that I found at least one other source (a drugstore in downtown Canton) and I figured out how to walk to Blair's. See, Blair Foodtown was a couple of miles from my house, and while I certainly was up for the walk, my dad wouldn't let me walk anywhere that required I walk along the highway. Not an unreasonable restriction for a parent. There was one convenience store that I could reach entirely by going through woods and back roads (Canton was still very rural at that point) that sold color comic books (Yay!) but not the black & white mags like Savage Sword (boo!). They also sold Doc Savage paperbacks which was a plus a couple of years later.
I figured that there probably was some way I could cut through back roads and what have you to reach Blair's and after a little experimentation I found it. It was a long, roundabout path that probably involved a great deal of trespassing, since I was literally ducking through people's back yards, but it would get me to the Supermarket without getting too close to the highway, so I made it work. (So yes, you young whippersnapper fans, I really did walk miles to buy my Conan comics.)
But back to issue #10. This is an interesting issue in that it contains the last part of Marvel's Adaptation of Robert E. Howard's single Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon. The penultimate chapter had apparently appeared in SSoC issue #8, and the four preceding segments in the first four issues of Marvel's short lived color comic, Giant Sized Conan. I owned those comics, but of course I was missing a section because I didn't have SSoC #8. Still, I was pleased to see the end of the story. (Keep in mind that the Conan paperbacks were still out of print at this point, so I couldn't read the actual book.)
As far as I know, no one has ever collected all six parts of this adaptation under one cover. That would be a nice graphic novel. Are you listening Dark Horse!?
The best thing though, about issue #10, was that the story took up the whole issue and the entire thing was drawn by John Buscema, who was pretty much my favorite artist at the time. It's a great art job too, with lots of action and weird adventures and scantily clad women.
As I noted earlier, after this issue I was able to get most subsequent issues without any problem, but there were other adventures ahead. Next time, I'll tell you about how I risked eternal damnation to read Savage Sword of Conan.